Plum Street Series

John Simpson Gray

John Simpson Gray was born in Edinburgh, Scotland to Philip C. Gray and Amelia (Tasker) Gray on October 5, 1841. He had one sister, Isabella, born February 19, 1834 and one brother, David, born November 8, 1836. Philip C. Gray was a Scotch Baptist but started reading the writings of Alexander Campbell in the Millenial Harbinger journal. He started a congregation of like-minded people in Edinburgh. The family, along with 11 others from the congregation, left Liverpool on April 9, 1849 and arrived in New York on April 30, 1849. The Grays stopped at Buffalo, New York where John’s uncle William Gray was living. Philip and his family continued on to Wisconsin and farmed until 1857 when the family moved to Detroit. There Philip established a toy business. He and his wife joined the Church of Christ. John attended high school in Detroit in 1858 and, upon graduation, became a teacher in Algonac, Michigan. In the Spring of 1859, he returned to Detroit and joining his father’s business. He also joined the church that year, and his sister Isabella and her husband Walter Sanderson joined when they arrived in Detroit that year.

Philip, Amelia, Isabella, David, and John Gray on the ship Constitution in 1849.

Isabella Gray married Walter Sanderson (who had accompanied them from Scotland in 1849) in Wisconsin on April 6, 1856 and they joined her parents in Detroit in 1858. In the 1860 U.S. Census, Walter, Isabella, and their 3-year-old son James (who had been born in Wisconsin) were living with Isabella’s parents and brother John in Detroit. Walter and John were listed as “clerks in fancy store,” while Philip owned the “fancy store.” Isabella’s next child was Amelia, born April 22, 1862 in Sandwich, Ontario. Their son, Philip Gray Sanderson, was born in August 1866 in Detroit (he later became a physician) and their daughter Grace was born December 14, 1868 in Detroit. In the 1870 U.S. Census, Isabella’s family lived next to her parents and her husband’s occupation was “dealer in land.” Their last child, Edmond Lindsay Sanderson, was born on May 7, 1872. In the 1880 census, they still lived next to Isabella’s parents. Walter was in real estate, while son James was a civil engineer. Walter was apponted an elder at Plum Street in 1880. In February 1883, their daughter Amelia married George I. Lindsay. The Sandersons were old friends of the Lindsay family from Wisconsin times. Grace married a nephew of George Lindsay’s, Walter E. Lindsay, on November 20, 1901 in Detroit. James died by suicide on September 18, 1885 in Bay City at the age of 28. His funeral was at Plum Street. Walter Sanderson, who also served as the church clerk and kept great records, died on May 18, 1888 of blood poisoning.


George Townsend, Mark Twain, and David Gray in 1871
from the Library of Congress – https://www.loc.gov/item/2017894932/

From Wisconsin, John Gray’s brother David moved onto Buffalo in 1856 and became the secretary/librarian of the Young Men’s Christian Union. In 1859, he started working for the Buffalo Courier newspaper, eventually becoming editor. He often wrote his family in Detroit and visited them there. John sometimes visited him in Buffalo. Between 1865 and 1868, David traveled through Europe and the Middle East and wrote a series of letters for the Courier. By April 1868, he was back in Buffalo and met his future wife, Martha Guthrie, in September. On June 2, 1869, they were married in New Orleans. Their first child David was born August 8, 1870 (between 1940-1947, he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and died in 1968 at the age of 97). David and Martha’s next son, Guthrie, was born in March 1874. His was an electrical engineer. He died August 26, 1905 at the age of 31 of sarcoma of the pelvis, having gone to the Muskoka area of Canada for his health. Their last child, a daughter named Emily, was born on January 23, 1882. She married Chauncey J. Hamlin and through their son Chauncey Jr., she became the grandmother of actor Harry Hamlin. Emily died in 1933. In September 1882, David Sr. and his family went back to Europe for David’s health. They stayed in Montreaux, Switzerland until April 1884. They returned to Buffalo in June. In ill health again in 1888, it was proposed that David go to Cuba accompanied by his brother John. There was a blizzard on March 12, so their train from Buffalo was delayed until the 15th. Their train derailed around 2:45 AM on March 16th, according to John, and David was badly injured. He never regained consciousness and died on March 18, 1888. Martha died in August 1931.


Philip and John ran the toy company until 1861, when they partnered with a Mr. Pelgrim to form a candy company called Pelgrim, Gray, & Co. Unfortunately, their store and stock were lost in a fire in January 1862. Philip retired soon after. John and Mr. Pelgrim added Joseph Toynton to the partnership. In 1865, Mr. Pelgrim retired from the candy company, now named Gray & Toynton. In 1870, the name changed again to Gray, Toynton, & Fox when J. B. Fox was added as a partner. Both Toynton and Fox died in 1881. John continued running the company and eventually employed 200 people during busy season.

Gray & Toynton’s business card, c1865.
From the Burton Historical Collection at Detroit Public Library

James Mitchell’s 1891 “Detroit in History and Commerce,” he described Gray, Toynton & Fox like this: “the factory at 20 to 26 Woodbridge east is five stories above a commodious basement…and is fully equipped with the latest and most improved machinery and appliances for manufacturing by its extensive operations” (p. 109). It employed 150 people and earned $400,000 a year.

Gray, Toynton & Fox listing in the 1895 Detroit City Directory

Meanwhile, in October 1864, John married Anna E. Hayward in Wisconsin. Their first son Philip Hayward Gray was born in October 1865. Another son, Paul Robert Gray was born July 24, 1867. A third son, David, was born January 20, 1870. Their last child, a daughter named Alice, was born August 6, 1875. In the 1870 U.S. Census, John’s family was living in Detroit in the 5th ward. His occupation was “confectioner.” His real estate was valued at $4,000 and his personal estate was $2,000. Philip was 5, Paul was 2, and David was 4 months. Anna’s 18-year-old sister Sarah was boarding with them and a 20-year-old servant named Mary Wilson was also living there.


Children of John S. Gray and Anna E. Hayward

Philip H. Gray married Mary A. Studley on May 6, 1890 in Ann Arbor. They had 4 children: Harold (1894-1972, married Laura Ley), Evelyn (1899-1974, married Richard M. Cameron), Almena (1903-1990, married John E. Wilde), and Philip II (1906-1978, married Margaret Day). Philip died November 25, 1922 in Boston. Mary died in 1939.

Paul Robert Gray married Frances Noble on January 23, 1900 in Detroit. They had 3 daughters: Frances (1901-1982, married 1st Waldo H. Brown who died in a 1939 naval reserve training flight crash; married 2nd Dr. Charles Merkel. See April 11, 1983 Detroit Free Press article “Glimpses of a Lavish Life”), Elizabeth (1902-1998, married Dr. Nelson B. Sackett), and Ann (1908-1994, married Joseph Scherer, Jr.). Paul Robert died September 27, 1929. Frances died in 1945.

David Gray married Martha L. Platt on January 16, 1894 in Detroit. They had a daughter, Sylvia Alger Gray (born January 15, 1902, died July 15, 1903 of nephritis), and a son David Gray, Jr. (1908-1966, married Helen “Nancy” Maxwell). David Sr. died on May 9, 1928. Martha died Sept. 16, 1946. The Montecito Journal has as article about David and Martha and their home life in California in the Winter/Spring 2012/13 edition (Moguls & Mansions by Hattie Beresford, v. 5, issue 2)

Alice Gray married William R. Kales on October 1, 1895 in Detroit. They had 5 children: Margaret (1896-1975, married Neil McMath – their daughter Margaret was kidnapped on May 2, 1933 and returned 2 days later. The Boston Globe ran a story on it recently: “Kidnapped on Cape Cod” by Alex Kingsbury), John Gray (born Dec. 4, 1899, died Jan. 2, 1902 of acute nephritis and uraemia), Robert (1904-1992, married Jane Webster), Alice (1909-1989, married Robert Hartwick), and Ellen (1914-1997, married Hugo Huettig). Alice died in 1960, and William died in 1942.


On John’s passport application dated February 2, 1872, he was 30 years old and 5′ 10″ tall with dark brown eyes and hair. He was described as having a medium forehead, a larger than medium nose, a large mouth with a rather sharply defined chin, high cheekbones, and a sallow complexion. Walter Sanderson, his brother-in-law, was the notary public that signed his name to Gray’s statement on January 26, 1872.

Portrait of John Simpson Gray, later in life
From Rochester University’s Michigan Churches of Christ collection

By the 1880 census, the family was living at 41 E. Forest Avenue (which would become 87 after the 1921 city renumbering) in Detroit. John actually bought this property in September 1874. The Detroit Free Press on 9/20/1874 stated this real estate transaction, “Caroline M. Weed to John S. Gray, lot on the north side of Forest Avenue, in Carlisle & Brooks’ section of park lots 34 and 35 for $1800.” This was located between John R and Woodward. In May 1875, Gray and others from the street petitioned the city council to pave Forest Ave east between those two streets.

In the June 10, 1880 census, John was 39 and still a confectioner. Anna, his wife, was 40 and sick with “female weakness.” Philip, Paul, and David were 14, 12, and 10 and all attended school. Their daughter Alice was 4. Anna’s 2 sisters Sarah and Emma were living with them. Sarah was 28 and a schoolteacher. Emma was 29 and was “at home.” The servant Mary Wilson, aged 29, was still working for them. They also had another female servant, 24-year-old Anna Taylor and a 21-year-old coachman named Theodore Bear. By the 1900 U.S. census, Gray’s kids were out of the house. He (aged 58), his wife Anna (aged 59), and sisters-in-law Sarah (aged 48, private teacher) and Emma (aged 49, stenographer) were living at 41 E. Forest with servants Bertha Dufke and Margaret Wren.

Detroit Free Press, August 12, 1883. On 10/18/1882, the newspaper covered the St. Louis Excursion Train taken by the Grays and the Linn’s, starting from Detroit, stopping in Adrian, and traveling on to St. Louis.

John Gray was very involved in the philanthropic, spiritual, and intellectual life of Detroit society. As early as 1875, Gray was elected president of the Literary Society of the Church of Christ on Plum Street, along with James Gourlay as vice-president and A. L. Gourlay as secretary (Detroit Free Press, 10/9/1875). In 1884, John was elected as a deacon of Plum Street Church of Christ, along with C. Lorman, W.F. Linn, A.A. Trout, and James Gourlay. His brother-in-law Walter Sanderson was elected elder at the same time. In February 1892, Gray was appointed treasurer of the Russian Family Relief Fund created by the governor (Detroit Free Press, 2/27/1892). At the same time, he was the president of the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Exchange of Detroit. In 1894, Gray was on the executive committee of the Wayne County Bible Society (Detroit Free Press, 3/7/1894). In January 1895, John Gray was elected president of the German-American Bank of Detroit. In December 1896, he was elected as a member of the Board of Library Commissioners of the Detroit Public Library for a 6-year-term, and in February 1900 was elected president of the board. He was also a member of the Detroit Archaeological Society, becoming its president in January 1905.

In 1903, Gray sold his company Gray, Toynton & Fox to the National Candy Company and became its vice-president. Also in 1903, Gray’s involvement in the future Ford Motor Company began. Alexander Malcomson, a business associate of and in debt to Gray, asked him to invest in a company being formed by Henry Ford. Many sources claim that Gray was Malcomson’s uncle, but I have been unable to find the original source of this, nor any vital records or documents proving it. According to Boyd, Gray thought this investment was “asinine folly” (p. 326). John met with Ford and agreed to invest $10,500 with the option to back out with full reimbursement (from Malcomson) within a year. Since he invested the most cash, John was made President of the Ford Motor Company, which was incorporated on June 16, 1903. Other investors besides Ford and Malcomson were James Couzens, Albert Strelow, the Dodge Brothers, John W. Anderson, Horace H. Rackham, Vernon Fry, Charles Bennett, and Charles J. Woodall. Most had some connection to Malcomson. Within a few years, Malcomson and Ford fell out over the direction of the company (high-end vehicles vs. vehicles for the masses), and Malcomson sold out his shares to Ford in May 1906. More about the early years in the Ford Motor Company will be in another post.

Detroit Free Press, Feb. 12, 1905. They often traveled to California for Gray’s health. Gray and his wife Anna traveled extensively in Europe as well. In 1896, the Grays had even been in Athens for the Olympic Games.

The Gray’s seem to have made annual trips to California during Michigan winters for John’s health. He often had heart trouble. In February 1906, in Los Angeles, John suffered an attack. They stayed there for nearly two months. When he was planning to return home in April, his doctor advised against it “saying that the least excitement would kill [him].” They later headed for San Francisco, but stopped at Pacific Grove (about 115 miles south of San Francisco) for a visit. They stayed there on the night of April 17 instead of moving on. This was fortunate for them because around 5 AM on April 18, San Francisco was hit by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake. On April 19, 1906, the Detroit Free Press reported that the couple was due to arrive in San Francisco on the evening of the 17th and “their friends are greatly alarmed and fear that the tour took them to the city just in time for the disaster.”

Detroit Free Press, April 27, 1906

In the May 7, 1906 issue, the Detroit Free Press ran a narrative by Gray describing what happened. In Pacific Grove, “the shock was very severe” but “the place is small and the buildings are nearly all of frame construction, so that the property loss was comparatively small.” They had to wait a week for the railroad tracks to be fixed, but eventually they reached Oakland after a 13 hour trip (which usually took 3 hours). He stated, “The trains and stations were filled with wouned and poverty-stricken people.” The Gray’s made it back to Detroit by early May. John died due to his heart trouble on July 6, 1906, likely exacerbated by his California adventure. John left behind his wife Anna and four adult children, 1) Philip Hayward, who pursued a career in insurance and stayed with the Central Christian Church. He funded a dormitory at Hiram College, 2) Paul Robert, represented the Gray Estate in Ford Motor Company along with his brother David. Paul stayed with the Plum Street Church of Christ. He funded the building of Fairview Church of Christ and donated $50,000 to Freed-Hardeman College, 3) David, who was a member of the Ford Motor Company board in 1913. In 1919, Ford bought out all other investors, and the Gray heirs received $26,250,000 from their father’s 1903 investment of $10,500, and 4) Alice, wife of William R. Kales of the Whitehead & Kales Iron Works.

Gray’s funeral took place July 9, 1906 at the Plum Street Church of Christ. William D. Campbell conducted the service, G.G. Taylor delivered the prayer, and Charles Loos pronounced the benediction. James Gourlay directed the choir. Pallbearers included Vernon Fry, Alexander Malcomson, William G. Malcomson, and Charles Gourlay, among others. Henry Ford was an honorary pallbearer. Gray was buried at Woodmere Cemetery. On the day of the funeral, the Detroit Public Library and its branches were closed until 11:30 out of respect for Gray.

According to a brochure produced by the Detroit Public Library in 1914, the John S. Gray branch of the Detroit Public Library was built in 1906 and remodeled in 1913. It was built at the corner of Field and Agnes Streets and designed by architects William G. Malcomson and William E. Higginbotham. Other photographs of the interior of the branch from the early 20th century are here. 2015 photographs from a Detroit urban explorer are at this website. The portrait above the fireplace was unveiled at the library’s rededication in 1914.

Children’s Room at the John S. Gray Branch, 1914 (portrait of Gray above fireplace). From Burton Historical Collection at DPL

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Plum Street Series

Beginnings of the Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ/Christian Church in Detroit

1815-1840s

Thomas Hawley (originally Scotch Baptist) and his family, including son Richard, had come to the United States in 1815. Between 1815 and 1835, they lived in Cambridge, MA, Germantown, PA, Wheeling, WV, and Cleveland, OH. In 1835, Alexander Campbell preached at the Cleveland courthouse. The next year, Richard was baptized. Thomas and the family (except for Richard) joined the Disciples of Christ. In 1840, they moved to Detroit.

Meanwhile in Scotland in 1838, Philip C. Gray, also Scotch Baptist, joined with others in Edinburgh to start a congregation. He had been influenced by Alexander Campbell’s writings in the Millennial Harbinger. In the same year in Paisley, Alexander Linn and his sister Caroline became friends with Helen Lambie and began attending services at the Methodist church with Helen. In 1839, Alexander Linn became a member of the Scotch Baptist church because they didn’t sprinkle for baptism and didn’t require belief in Calvinist doctrine. The whole Linn family also joined. In 1840, however, Caroline Linn joined with the Disciples of Christ meeting in Glasgow (Colin Campbell was already meeting with them).

In Fall 1841, six Hawley family members started meeting for worship at Thomas Hawley’s home in Detroit. Alexander Linn, now married to Helen Lambie, and his sister Caroline, now married to Colin Campbell, arrived in Detroit in 1842 and began meeting with the Hawley family. Their parents William and Jean (Ralston) Linn also moved to Detroit and joined. In 1843, Thomas Hawley’s son Richard settled in Detroit with his own family. Between 1844 and 1853, the congregation meeting at the Hawley home moved to a few different places – a schoolhouse on the corner of Randolph and Congress streets, Fireman’s Hall on Woodward between Congress and Larned, and the Detroit Institute on Jefferson near Antoine.

Meanwhile in 1849, the Gray family settled in Wisconsin.

1850s

In 1853, Thomas Hawley’s wife Rebecca died and he returned to England the next year. Also in 1854, Charles A. Lorman was baptized by Alexander Linn. The church moved to the Detroit Court House, east of Campus Martius. Isaac Errett, leader of the so-called “New Interest,” visited and preached in Detroit often. He was a big influence on Colin Campbell and Richard Hawley. The “New Interest” group supported instrumental music in worship, missionary societies, and some other ideas that other members disagreed with. In the spring of 1856, the congregation bought a lot on the southwest corner of Miami Avenue and State Street, and Hawley and Campbell were appointed trustees. The building, however, was never built, perhaps due to the friction between the congregation and Campbell and Hawley. The group continued to meet at the Court House until the Spring of 1863. In 1857, Philip C. Gray and his family moved to Detroit from Wisconsin. On December 24, 1858, Alexander Linn’s sister Janet married Charles Lorman. In 1859, Walter and Isabella (Gray) Sanderson also moved to Detroit, and John S. Gray joined the church.

1860s

In 1862, Richard Hawley, Colin Campbell, and fourteen others withdrew from the congregation meeting at the Court House and started meeting independently at a building on the corner of Jefferson and Beaubien. They adopted Isaac Errett’s “Synopsis of Faith and Practice” as their by-laws. This seemed a lot like a creed to the Linns and other men in the other congregation. In Spring 1863, the Court House congregation bought and moved into the old Tabernacle Baptist Meetinghouse on the north side of Howard Street between 2nd and 3rd streets. They call themselves the Howard Street Church of Christ, Charles Lorman, Philip C. Gray, Alexander Linn and 2 others were chosen as trustees. In 1865, Errett left Detroit for Cleveland to start the journal “Christian Standard.” He left W.T. Moore in charge who wanted to repair the rift between the congregations. In October of that year, the two groups met at Howard Street and adopted resolutions for merging (Walter Sanderson, P.C. Gray’s son-in-law, was the secretary at the meeting). On November 16, 1865, the churches joined together for worship again at the Jefferson and Beaubien building. The organ was used even though the Howard Street people didn’t want to. In 1866-1867, Moore left for Kentucky and a man named Hobbs was voted to replace him (Hobbs was called Pastor, another problem to the Linn group). The group tried to elect officers again (which had failed in 1865). Hawley and Campbell nominated each other for elders, as well as Alexander Linn and four others for deacons. Alexander protested the whole thing and withdrew his name. Hawley and Campbell were elected as elders, and P.C. Gray, Charles Lorman, and two others were elected as deacons. Lorman and Gray declined since they hadn’t received a majority vote. Alexander lead protests so often that Hawley and Campbell charged him with unruly and disorderly conduct and considered excluding him from the congregation. Hobbs resigned and a man named Berry replaced him. Alexander Linn resigned his membership, and Hawley and his family and some others withdrew and began another “faction.” There were now 3 groups: the Howard Street group (Linn), the original “new interest” group (Campbell), and the new “new interest group (Hawley).” Charles Lorman, Linn’s brother-in-law, opposed Campbell and Berry about by-laws and 19 members sign a petition. Campbell and his clerk son, John M.L. Campbell, sent a letter out that upset many. Finally, on December 15, 1867, Berry and Campbell excommunicated 11 of the 19 petition signers, including Helen Linn (Alexander’s wife), Philip C. Gray and his wife Amelia, Charles Lorman, and Walter Sanderson and his wife. Starting in 1868, Colin Campbell’s group met at St. Andrew’s Hall on Woodward and State street for awhile. Eventually Campbell’s group and Hawley’s group combined and met at 41 Washington Avenue until 1884 as the Central Christian Church. In January 1868, Linn and Lorman’s group started meeting at the Detroit Ice Company (owned by Lorman) while they sold the Howard Street property. In February 1868, the Church of Christ bought two lots at the southwest corner of Fourth and Plum streets for $1800. They formed a committee to build a meeting house for $2000. During construction, the congregation met at the Celtic Historical Society Hall on Michigan Avenue and Cass. Their first service at Fourth and Plum was on July 26, 1868, with Alexander Linn preaching about “The aims of the church in maintaining a distinctive existence” and Philip C. Gray presiding over the Lord’s Supper. On August 9, James and Jean Gourlay placed membership and by September 6, there were sixty members.

Meeting – The Disciples of Christ meeting on the corner of Fourth and Plum streets, hold public worship on Lord’s Day morning at the usual hour and at 3 1/2 o’clock in the afternoon. Bren, Black and Beatty, of Toronto, Ontario, will address the meeting on this occasion. A cordial invitation is extended to all.

Detroit Free Press, August 23, 1868

From the Burton Historical Collection at Detroit Public Library: “Disciples of Christ Church (Christian), 4th & Plum St., 1882”. Prior to 1906, the terms “Disciples of Christ” and “Church of Christ” were interchangeable.

1870s-1880s

Christian Church
In 1871, Colin and Caroline (Linn) Campbell founded the Orchard Lake Community Church for a summer chapel (Colin had bought Apple Island in 1856 for $3050). Its original building was dedicated on July 18, 1874. In the 1879 Detroit City Directory, Colin Campbell’s church was named the Central Christian Church and was located at Washington Avenue between State and Grand River with Colin Campbell and Asa Sears as elders. Colin Campbell died in September 1883. In 1884, the church moved to Second and Ledyard Streets.

The Christian Church on Washington Avenue. From the Burton Historical Collection at Detroit Public Library. This photo was owned by Colin Campbell’s daughter who inscribed on the back, “Father and Uncle Thomas Linn bought this building from the Scotch Presbyterian Church and paid for its removal from the eastern side of Woodward Ave. to its site on Washington Blvd. This was before 1870 or about that time.”

Church of Christ
In 1871-1873, the church on Plum Street held several multi-day meetings and raised money for various causes like the victims of the fire in the Thumb in 1871 and an 1873 yellow fever epidemic in Memphis. In the 1879 Detroit City Directory, the Plum Street church was referred to as the Disciples of Christ at the corner of 4th and Plum with elders A. Linn and P.C. Gray. At Plum Street, Philip C. Gray served as an elder from 1875-1892, while Alexander served as one from 1875-1882. Walter Sanderson was an elder from 1880 until his death in 1888. In December 1882, a committee including Lorman, J.S. Gray, James Gourlay, W.F. Linn, W.G. Malcomson, A.A. Trout (Alexander Linn’s son-in-law) and James Sanderson was formed to buy a lot at 14th and Ash Streets and build a meeting house. The first service at 14th and Ash occurred on May 6, 1883. Alexander A. Trout was appointed the leader there with W.G. Malcomson and James Sanderson as his assistants (these appointments apparently lasted a year).

Note on back: “Mission Chapel – Disciples of Christ, 14th Ave & Ash St., 1883.” From the Burton Historical Collection at Detroit Public Library.

In 1885, Ella F. Linn (daughter-in-law of Alexander Linn) started a Sunday school between Fort and Dix in a store building on what is now W. Vernor near Lansing Ave. Sarah Malcomson (Alexander Malcomson’s wife) helped her. In 1887, the church bought a lot at Vinewood and Dix for $3250. This new congregation grew to 100 members. Alex Y. Malcomson was an early member at Vinewood. In 1888, both Alexander Trout and Walter Sanderson died.

Vinewood Church of Christ, c1900, during building updates. From  http://dalnetarchive.org/handle/11061/2315

1890s-1900s

In 1891, Plum Street hired W. D. Campbell as their full-time preacher. Many members at 14th and Ash left to help at Vinewood and also to go back to Plum Street because they liked W.D. Campbell. After 10 years, the 14th and Ash mission was abandoned. In 1894, W. D. Campbell baptized Otoshige Fujimori at Plum Street. In 1898, Fujimori started a mission in Takahagi, Japan. John S. Gray paid half the balance for the purchase of the land. On December 26, 1905, there was a celebration of the anniversary of the Bible school of the Plum Street Church of Christ and architect W.G. Malcomson was the school’s superintendent. Also in 1895, Plum Street established a Cameron Avenue mission. After meeting in various places, John S. Gray paid to build a meetinghouse for that congregation on a lot at Clay and Cameron Avenues. The first service was held on June 7, 1903. Gray’s death on July 6, 1906 was a “severe blow to church efforts.” (Boyd, 112).

1910s-1930s

On August 1, 1912, Claud F. Witty became the preacher at Plum Street. In 1914-1916, the Fairview Church of Christ began by meeting in a remodeled dwelling at the northwest corner of Waterloo and Lemay Avenues in a section of Detroit called Fairview. In 1916, John S. Gray’s son Paul Robert Gray contributed the money for Fairview’s permanent building (Fairview later became Lemay). In 1918, the Plum Street congregation moved to Hamilton and Tuxedo to land donated by Vernon C. Fry. Then, according to a history of the Westside Central Church of Christ written by Claud Witty,

…an evil hour came upon us… . Upon hearing of this move, Brother A. Y. Malcomson, one of the Plum Street members, decided to take over the building on Plum Street and assemble another congregation, which would retain the historic name of “Plum Street Church of Christ”… . His first move was to employ Fred Cowan…as the minister. The second move was to go before the Cameron Avenue congregation… .

Malcomson went before Cameron Avenue to offer Cowan as preacher (supported financially by Malcomson). A church in Harlan, Kentucky church sent out a call for help and Malcomson asked the Wittys if they would go and he would pay their expenses. While they were gone, Malcomson wanted to combine the Gratiot Avenue mission and the Cameron Avenue church under Cowan. Some agreed and some didn’t. Malcomson sent two of his trucks to the Warren Avenue church (which became Westside Central) to load up their furniture and returned their key to the owner, without the congregation or Witty’s knowledge. His plan was to combine the enlarged Cameron Avenue church with the new congregation on Plum Street, as well as the Warren Avenue congregation.

The final move was to close the Warren Avenue church, as well as Gratiot Avenue and Cameron Avenue. This would make the new congregation consist of a goodly number of the Plum Street members, many from Vinewood, all from Warren Avenue, all from Cameron Avenue, and all from Gratiot Avenue… . Leading members were invited to the home of Brother Malcomson on different occasions for secret meetings.

The plan was not very successful. Twenty-three members of Warren Avenue did go over to the new congregation, but the congregation as a whole did not. This also happened at Cameron Avenue. In fact,

…many of the members, including all that went from Warren Avenue and Brother Malcomson himself withdrew from the effort and Brother Cowan and those loyal to him went in a body to the Central Christian Church, where Brother Cowan was made co-pastor with Edgar DeWitt Jones.

In 1925, the Central Christian Church and the Woodward Avenue Christian Church merged.

A final congregation I wanted to discuss is the Dearborn Church of Christ, which I have some personal connections to. The group first gathered on August 4, 1929 at the Robert Oakman school. W.G. Malcomson spoke at the service. In 1930, they bought lots at the corner of Chase Road and Gould and a temporary building paid for by Vernon C. Fry was put there.

Dearborn Church of Christ building from 1930-1937
– from http://dalnetarchive.org/handle/11061/2345

On November 13, 1936, ground was broken for a permanent Dearborn building designed by W.G. Malcomson. The building was not completed until 1942, but they occupied the basement beginning on August 5, 1937.

Dearborn Church of Christ building and congregation in June 1942. The building was designed by W. G. Malcomson. From http://dalnetarchive.org/handle/11061/2343

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